Virgil van Dijk

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Nations League: English, Dutch battle for place in final

Leave a comment

GUIMARAES, Portugal (AP) England is aiming to translate the recent European dominance of its clubs to the international stage when it meets the Netherlands on Thursday in UEFA’s inaugural Nations League tournament.

England is looking for its first international trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup, but a resurgent Dutch squad stands in its path to Sunday’s final.

[ MORE: Premier League VAR details ]

“We want to be in the habit of starting to win things,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on the eve of the Nations League semifinal.

England is in high spirits after reaching the semifinals of the World Cup last year. Also, the Premier League provided all four clubs in the recent Champions League and Europa league finals – an unprecedented feat.

“We’ve got players who are capable and hungry,” Southgate said in Guimaraes in northern Portugal. “We’ve shown incredible adaptability and resilience in the team.”

With a head-to-head record of six wins each and nine draws, the encounter is likely to be a tight affair between two teams that are on the up. England edged the Dutch 1-0 in a friendly game last year.

The Netherlands’ trophy cupboard has had no new additions since the 1988 European Championship title, when its current coach Ronald Koeman was still playing for the national team.

After failing to qualify for the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup finals, the Dutch got back on track by knocking out World Cup-winner France and powerhouse Germany to reach the Nations League final four.

“We’re playing (against) a very good team,” Southgate said. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting game.”

Koeman said Southgate has done “a fantastic job” by putting together a squad of young, gifted players.

“They have strong players, they have technical players, they have fast players,” Koeman said.

Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk, who won the Champions League title with Liverpool last weekend, said he expects a tough and evenly-balanced game.

“They’re definitely full of confidence, but we should be as well,” he said.

The winner plays the final on Sunday in Porto, meeting host Portugal, while the loser goes into the third-place match versus Switzerland in Guimaraes earlier the same day.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Virgil van Dijk should be serious contender for Ballon d’Or

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The game was boring, they’ll say. The game was dull. The game was putrid. The game was sloppy.

Boring is just the way Virgil Van Dijk likes it.

The Dutch defender was named Man of the Match as he led the back line for Liverpool in a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final to secure the club’s sixth European crown. The game was punctuated by bad passing, poor build-up play, and a general lack of attacking quality, but van Dijk was at the thick of all that, locking down the Tottenham attack and leaving Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, and Harry Kane firmly in his pocket.

Van Dijk donned the Champions League winner’s medal having led the Liverpool defense in one of the most spectacular individual defensive seasons you’ll see. Liverpool conceded just 27 goals across the 38 Premier League matches – not only the best in the English top flight, but the best domestic defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. The Reds conceded just five goals in the Champions League knockout stages against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Porto, and Tottenham Hotspur, with three of those coming in the first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou.

Through it all, van Dijk was a model of consistency and durability, accumulating an enormous 4,465 minutes across all competitions. He missed just three matches all year, sitting out the first leg against Bayern Munich due to yellow card accumulation and resting for the pair of domestic Cup losses to Wolves and Chelsea. Otherwise, van Dijk played every single minute of every single match throughout the entire season, racking up 26 clean sheets in his 50 appearances on the pitch – over half the games he played Liverpool did not concede.

Nevertheless, those are team achievements. That’s where the most unbelievable stat comes into play, proof of van Dijk’s dominance on the season. The 27-year-old did has not been dribbled past in a staggering 64 straight matches, completing 52 straight tackles this season without fail, a perfect personal defensive record.

In fact, as Opta confirms, van Dijk has not been dribbled past since a 5-0 win over Porto in February of 2018, his first Champions League appearance for the club.

All these glittering facts and figures culminate together to make one glaringly blatant argument that might not seem so blatant after all: Virgil van Dijk should be a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or come December, with a real chance to be the first defender to win the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and only the fourth defender to win the award in its history.

Obviously there’s plenty of time to go. Van Dijk will likely be in the lineup for the Netherlands as they take on England in just five days in the Nations League semifinals, and should he lock it down in Portugal, a solid performance on a short turnaround would be yet another feather in his cap this season. If Liverpool starts next Premier League as expected title contenders, van Dijk could even be the frontrunner for the prestigious award headed into the fall.

Still, a modest van Dijk just minutes off winning the Champions League doesn’t think he is the best player in the world. “I think [Barcelona striker Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world,” van Dijk said in his post-match press conference. “I think he deserves [the Ballon d’Or] as long as he plays. The Ballon d’Or isn’t something I think about. But if it happens by any chance then obviously I will take it. I don’t think there is any case. I think he is still the best player in the world. Whether he’s in the final or not.”

Luka Modric won last year’s Ballon d’Or essentially on the back of a fabulous World Cup performance, despite the fact Real Madrid suffered through a dismal October of La Liga play, dropping to ninth in the table and falling out of the La Liga title race. Van Dijk may not have that much room for error in the calendar year, given his status as a defender always puts him behind the curve of the flashier goalscorers and even midfield maestros like Modric. Still, the Dutchman merits serious consideration and potentially even the trophy should he continue to plod along on this stellar pace.

Virgil van Dijk named Premier League Player of Season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Virgil Van Dijk has been named the Premier League’s official Player of the Season for the 2018-19 campaign.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Dutch defender has transformed Liverpool’s fortunes after his $100 million transfer from Southampton in January 2018.

Since then he has helped Liverpool reach back-to-back UEFA Champions League finals, while they have also recored a record points tally in the PL this season.

Van Dijk, 27, adds this award to his PFA Players’ Player of the Year award, as he was also named in the PFA Team of the Year.

Man City’s Raheem Sterling was named the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year to prevent VVD from completing a clean sweep of all of the top individual awards.

The captain of the Dutch national team has solidified Liverpool’s previously porous defensive unit, while he has also added key goals in attack and is a hero among Liverpool’s fans.

His first 18 months as a Liverpool player has seen him reach levels people thought he could maybe achieve, and he has surpassed even the loftiest expectations placed upon him with minimum fuss.

Edwin van der Sar says Ajax defender de Ligt will move to England or Spain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar has spoken after the Dutch club’s shocking late defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals, and said he believes the end is near for 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt at his boyhood club.

According to the Ajax chief executive, de Ligt is most likely to move to a big club in Spain or England. Speaking to Sky Sports Italia as quoted by Goal.com, van der Sar said, “I think these will be De Ligt’s final games with Ajax, but I hope he goes out on a high. He’s been here since he was a child and will end up at a big club. I think he’ll go to England or Spain.”

[ MORE: Paying tribute to a memorable Ajax run ]

De Ligt has set all kinds of marks at his young age, adding to his value this summer. He is the youngest ever in Ajax history to reach 100 appearances for the club, a crowning achievement given Ajax’s history as a developer of young talent. He is the club’s youngest-ever captain, and the first defender ever to win the Golden Boy award for Europe’s best player under 21 years old.

The 19-year-old has been linked to the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Juventus over the past month or two, and his future remains wide open. The team that seems to make the most sense would be Barcelona, where his current Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong is already confirmed to be headed at the end of the season. The Barcelona back line is in serious flux, with 32-year-old Gerard Pique seemingly starting to decline, while Samuel Umtiti struggled with injuries and Clement Lenglet failed to consistently perform.

Manchester City is always a player for top talent with the money it possesses, and they could look to de Ligt to replace an aging Vincent Kompany, but he may not want to compete with fellow youngsters in John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for playing time. Manchester United could absolutely use a defender of de Ligt’s youth and caliber, but their lack of Champions League play could put them at a disadvantage. Liverpool would love to have an international teammate to partner with fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk, especially with injuries decimating the back line this season which left Joel Matip as a consistent starter.

The one team shattered by this statement would be Juventus, who would be considered a major player with Giorgio Chiellini now at 34 years old and Leonardo Bonucci at 32. Also not helping Juve is de Ligt’s agent Mino Raiola being given a three-month transfer ban in Italy, which would cover this summer’s window. Raiola said he is appealing.

Van der Sar also said the club will do its best to keep head coach Erik ten Hag, with the former Bayern reserve boss now a wanted man after the Champions League run. “We intend to keep hold of Ten Hag, that is our intention,” van der Sar said. “We know there will be a lot of changes within the squad, but we’d at least like to confirm the coaching staff.”

Much of this will have to wait until the season concludes, as Ajax continues to battle for the Eredivisie title as well as the KNVB Beker trophy to wipe away the tears of the Champions League collapse.

Liverpool survive Newcastle scare to take PL title race to final day

1 Comment
  • Liverpool back in front in PL title race
  • Van Dijk’s header opened the scoring (13′)
  • Atsu leveled it 7 minutes later | Salah for 2-1 (28′)
  • Rondon levels it again (54′) | Origi wins it late (86′)

Liverpool guaranteed the Premier League title race will go down to the final day of the season with a 3-2 victory over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Saturday. As the final score suggests, it was anything but easy or straightforward for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds.

Whether or not Manchester City beat Leicester City in their penultimate league fixture on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will determine who takes the pole position into next Sunday’s simultaneous finales.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The opening 45 minutes of between the Reds and Magpies were frantic and goal-filled.

Virgil Van Dijk opened the scoring with one of the easiest headed goals that any player will ever score (WATCH HERE), but Liverpool’s lead lasted just seven minutes before Christian Atsu drew the home side level. Trent Alexander-Arnold will actually have been thankful that Atsu scored his chance, because the Liverpool defender would have otherwise been sent off for the clearest of handballs to block a goal-bound shot. Had the rebound not fallen to Atsu, and perhaps had he missed with his follow-up shot, Liverpool would have played a man down for 70 minutes.

Mohamed Salah restored Liverpool’s lead just eight minutes later with a deftly placed finish from a really difficult position. The ball came in from Alexander-Arnold on the right, but was too high for Salah to strike it with power and too low to head it. Instead, he re-positioned himself ever so slightly and leaned back just as the ball arrived, expertly re-directing it inside the far post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The twists and turns weren’t finished, though — far from it, in fact.

Newcastle drew level again in the 54th minute, thanks to Salomon Rondo’s instinctual strike off the assist of another former Red, Javier Manquillo. It should have been little more than a half-chance, but the Venezuelan struck the ball ever so cleanly from near the penalty spot and Alisson could do nothing about it.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Salah was stretchered off the field in the 73rd minute after taking a powerful blow to the head from Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (WATCH HERE).

Without last season’s PL Player of the Year, Liverpool struggled to create even a handful of chances from open play. Fortunately for Klopp, his side excels on set pieces. Divock Origi rose highest and got his head to Xherdan Shaqiri‘s free kick in the 86th minute.

Liverpool (94 points) will finish their title challenge when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit Anfield next Sunday. Man City (92, with a game still in hand), meanwhile, will be away to Brighton & Hove Albion.